Time To Stop Beating Around the Bûche

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Growing up in California, I always thought a yule log was the crackling fire you tuned your televisions to while you opened your Christmas gifts.  I was stunned to learn that the yule log is not only a real cake consumed by many Americans, but the Christmas Eve dessert for families in France.

In contrast to the rest of the traditional Réveillon menu for December 24th--oysters, foie gras, truffles, and roast capon--the Bûche de Noël is a humble little creature.  Thin genoise cake, usually chocolate, is rolled around a flavored cream-based filling and then frosted and decorated with meringue mushrooms to look like a felled log in the forest.  Although some French seem to prize an ultra-realistic log, and others opt for a more cartoonish look, everyone's goal is clearly to make the cake look like a moldering piece of wood.
The homely charm of the French bûche has caught on stateside in a big way, and many cooking schools offer some kind of bûche baking and/or decorating class just before Christmas.  Wine country seems to boast more than its fair share of bûche fever, with classes offered seemingly every week in December leading up to Christmas Eve.  If you haven't jumped on the bûche bandwagon yet, it's not too late!  Two great options remain for a last-minute crash course, and both have the added bonus of producing a real bûche for you to take home and serve at your own Christmas Eve table.  But time is running out, so reserve now.

Ramekins Culinary School in downtown Sonoma hosts their 100% hands-on Bûche de Noël class on Thursday, December 23, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Chef Annie Simmons will lead class participants through the assembly and decoration of the bûche, combining chocolate genoise, Swiss buttercream, meringue mushrooms, and cocoa dust into a magical yule log certain to surprise and delight the next evening.  How can that be certain, you ask?  Hot mulled wine will be on hand to unleash your creative spirit, and Chef Annie will provide all the cake fixins to let you focus exclusively on your artistic vision.  The class costs $95 per person, and you can register online or by calling the school at (707) 933-0450.

For a primer in the full French Réveillon dinner, consider reserving one of the 15 spots at Bouchon's first ever cooking class this Tuesday the 22nd, at 6:00 p.m.  Bouchon's Chef de Cuisine Phil Tessier will guide guests through both demonstration and hands-on components in the Ad Hoc kitchen, just down the street from Bouchon.  Chef will demo canapés de foie gras aux pruneaux (a canapé topped with a terrine of foie gras and prunes); an oyster potage with fingerling potatoes, cauliflower florets and crispy garlic; a classic roasted chapon stuffed with chestnuts, cranberries, and savoy cabbage; and of course, the all-important Bûche de Noël.  Attendees will get to decorate their own chocolate-toffee log to take home, and then sit down to enjoy the four-course feast Chef Tessier had just demonstrated.  

The cost of this "Bouchon de Noël" evening is $175 per person, which includes all class activities, the four-course dinner, wine pairings with dinner, tax and gratuity.  All proceeds from this evening will go to the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group's scholarship fund, which provides opportunities for talented chefs to further their culinary training through additional educational experiences.   To reserve a spot for this unique class experience, you should contact Bouchon's reservation department at (707) 944-8037 as soon as possible.

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